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ventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and inventions."
On March 4, 1789, Government under the new Constitution began operations, and on January 8, 1790, President Washington addressed the second session of the First Congress, meeting in New York City, urging the Representatives to give "effectual encouragement exertion of skill and genius at home.” A week later a committee consisting of Ædanus Burke of South Carolina, Benjamin Huntington of Connecticut and Lambert Cadwalader of New Jersey was instructed to bring in separate bills on patents and copyrights. On February 16 this committee presented the patent bill, and after debate in the House and in the Senate it was passed.
FOR THE FIRST TIME in history the intrinsic right of an inventor to profit from his invention is recognized by law.
Previously, privileges granted to an inventor were dependent upon the prerogative of a monarch or upon a special act of a legislature. Now, if an inventor produces a patentable invention, his right to certain privileges is established. Among the provisions of the Act:
The subject matter of a United States patent is defined as "any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used.” To apply for a patent a specification and drawing, and—if possible-a model, must be presented.
The responsibility for granting patents is placed upon a Board consisting of the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, and the Attorney General.
The Board members have the power to issue a patent, “if they shall deem the invention or discovery sufficiently useful and important, for a period not to exceed 14 years. The Board fixes the duration of each patent.
The Board's authority to grant patents is absolute, and there is no appeal from its decisions.
The responsibility for administering the patent laws is given to the Department of State.
Fees for a patent amount to between $4 and $5. The Board in charge of granting patents styled itself the “Patent Board,” the "Patent Commission," or the "Commissioners for the Promotion of Useful Arts." Its first members were Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State; Henry Knox, Secretary of War; and Edmund Randolph, Attorney General.
As Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson was in effect the first Administrator of the American Patent System-his Department having been assigned the task of administering the patent laws. Jefferson, noted for his opposition to monopolies, none the less became a firm believer in the value of limited monopolies for authors and inventors. “Certainly," he wrote, "an inventor ought to be allowed a right to the benefit of his invention for some certain time. Nobody wishes more than I do that ingenuity should receive liberal encouragement.” He was likewise of the opinion that in the arts, and especially in the mechanical arts, many ingenious improvements are made in consequence of the patent right giving exclusive use of them for 14 years."
Jefferson, besides being the first supervisor of the Patent Office, was in effect the first patent "examiner." As Secretary of the Department of State he became the moving spirit of the Board which decided whether patents were to be granted. Accord
ing to available records it appears that he made a personal examination of all the applications that came before the board.
Jefferson's interest in patents and inventions was that of a well educated, brilliant man. A mathematician, astronomer, architect, and student of languages, Jefferson was undoubtedly the most accomplished and versatile man in the public life of his time. Not only did he appreciate the value of patents from an intellectual viewpoint, but as an inventor himself he had first-hand knowledge of the problems of creative workers. Although he never took out a patent Jefferson made a number of inventions, one of which-an improvement in the mold board of the plough-had a significant effect on the agricultural development of this country and earned him a decoration from the French Institute. He also invented a revolving chair—which his enemies accused him of designing "so as to look all ways at once”, -a folding chair or stool which could be used as a walking stick, a machine for treating hemp, and a pedometer.
Jefferson's appreciation of invention was one of his outstanding characteristics. As Minister to France he continually sent back news of the latest scientific developments in Europe, and he was the first to notify this country of James Watt's great contribution to civilization-the steam engine. Jefferson was ever zealous in encouraging the introduction of new things: no one could have been more ably fitted to administer the first American patent laws.
May 31.-Congress enacts the first Federal Copyright law.
July 31.-Samuel Hopkins, of Pittsford, Vt., but at this time of Philadelphia, Pa., receives the first United States patent, for an improvement in “the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” The grant is signed by George Washington, President of the United States, and also carries the signatures of Edmund Randolph, Attorney General, and Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State. The original document is still in existence in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society. (The Vermont Historic Sites Commission will erect a marker at the former residence of Samuel Hopkins, in the summer of 1956.)
Patents granted this year, 3.
1791 Patents granted this year, 33. 1792 Patents granted this year,
11. 1790-1793.-During these years one difficulty the Board has to face is that the members have insufficient time to spare from their regular duties to devote to patent matters.
ACT OF FEBRUARY 21
THE PATENT LAWS ARE SUBSTANTIALLY CHANGED
The Act of 1793, by omitting the requirement that an invention be "sufficiently useful and important," and making other changes, changes the whole tenor of the patent laws.
The "registration" system is substituted for the "examination” system. An application is no longer examined for novelty and usefulness, but a patent is granted to any one who applies, submits the proper drawings and pays the necessary fee. The issuing of patents becomes little more than a clerical function.
This system remains in effect for 43 years.
Some provisions of the Act:
The Patent Board is abolished and the duty of granting patents placed upon the Secretary of State.
Aliens are forbidden to obtain patents.
In the case of interferences (two or more persons applying for the same patent at the same time) the Secretary of State appoints a Board, consisting of one man chosen by himself and one chosen by each applicant, to determine the issue. The Board's decision is final.
March 14.-Eli Whitney, two years out of Yale, receives a patent 1794 for his cotton gin.
The cotton gin, by replacing the slow cleaning of seeds by hand labor, made possible the great textile industry of later years. Whitney's patent was one of the earliest issued by the Patent Office to have a vital bearing on American civilization.
The Government moves from Philadelphia to Washington, and the 1800 State Department, including the Patent Office, is assigned temporary quarters in the Treasury Office.
April 17.–Aliens are given the right to obtain patents provided they have resided in this country for two years and have declared their intention of becoming citizens.
August 27.-The State Department and Patent Office move to 1901 Pennsylvania Avenue.
May.—The Patent Office is transferred to the Southwest Executive 1801 Building, on the site of the present State, War, and Navy Building.
THE PATENT OFFICE BECOMES A SEPARATE UNIT Secretary of State James Madison gives the Patent Office the status of a distinct unit or division within the Department of State by appointing Dr. William Thornton, at a salary of $1,400 a year, "to have charge of the issuing of patents.” This salary is later increased to $1,500.
Dr. William Thornton, first chief of the Patent Office, was a man of marked individuality, culture, and intelligence. Born in the British West Indies and receiving his medical degree at Edinburgh, Scotland, he came to the United States in 1786 and two years later became a citizen. He first achieved prominence in this country by designing the original plans for the Capitol in Washington, for which he was given $500 and a plot of land.
Dr. Thornton was a close personal friend of James Madison. He was intimately acquainted with the prominent men of his time, and as head of the Patent Office devoted himself wholeheartedly to the task of promoting the benefits of the patent system. He even took out a number of patents himself (a step later forbidden to all employees of the Patent Office) and was associated with John Fitch in the development of the steamboat.
Dr. William Thornton, chief and later "Superintendent” of the Patent Office, October 1802 to March 28, 1828.
May 5.-Mary Kies, of Killingly, Windham County, Conn., is the first woman to obtain a United States patent. Her invention relates to "weaving straw with silk or thread.”
Patents granted this year, 203.
The Patent Office is assigned four rooms in the west wing of Blodgett's Hotel, on E Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets NW. The building, purchased and repaired by the Government in 1810, was never used as a hotel, but housed the first theater in Washington.
Congress refers to the "keeper" of patents. No official designation has as yet been given to the head of the Patent Office, but soon afterwards Dr. Thornton adopts the title of "Superintendent." In 1830 this title is officially recognized.
August 25.-The British burn Washington. Dr. William Thornton, Superintendent of Patents, saves the Patent Office from destruction by pleading with the British Commander not to "burn what would be useful to all mankind.” During the following year Congress meets in the Patent Office building (Blodgett's Hotel), while the Capitol is being restored.
April 11.-President Madison, in a special message to Congress, urges that the Patent Office be given the status of a separate bureau.
Daniel Webster, in a speech in Congress, declares that invention is the fruit of a man's brain, that industries grow in proportion to invention, and that therefore the Government must aid progress by fostering the inventive genius of its citizens. He thus expresses the same views of the patent system voiced by his predecessors, Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Franklin.
Patents granted this year, 304.
Dr. William Thornton, first Superintendent of the Patent Office, dies on March 28.
Dr. Thomas P. Jones, Superintendent of Patents, April 12, 1828 to June 10, 1829.
Dr. John D. Craig, third Superintendent of Patents, points out to Congress that “at present the Patent Office is a source of revenue, which, it is presumed, the framers of its laws never intended; and the compensation received by those connected with it is far less, in proportion to their labor and responsibility, than in any other office of the Government within the District.” This complaint was to be made frequently in the years to come.
An addition to Blodgett's Hotel, home of the Patent Office and the city post office, is built. The Patent Office is housed in the new structure.